The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 was the culmination of years of dreams, desperate pleas, and corporate collaboration, as Google and Samsung finally came together to give us the amazing Android smartwatch that Android owners deserved. The Exynos chipset inside ran circles around the outdated Qualcomm chipsets of its competitors. It gave us Samsung’s refined hardware and software experience with the Google services and apps that we’d missed out on earlier Tizen-based Galaxy Watch models.
It wasn’t a perfect smartwatch by any means: battery woes were common, and because this was the first watch to use the newly merged Wear OS 3, third-party watches and apps had trouble interacting with Samsung’s health sensors for a while. We were left waiting most of the year for Google Assistant on the Watch 4 to finally arrive and there would be weeks at a time when Google Pay would just stop working. (Admittedly, half of those issues were purple on Google’s end, but it was still supremely annoying.)
Now that the services are ready and the initial bugs have been ironed out, the new Galaxy Watch 5 didn’t need to do much to keep its crown, just refine an already-improved experience. However, when announcing the Galaxy Watch 5, Samsung was very quick to tout significantly higher battery life, as it was one of only three things that really changed on the new model. Samsung claims you can get up to 50 hours on a single charge with the Galaxy Watch 5. While that whet my appetite, the watch itself has left me feeling unsated despite being better than the Watch 4 in several areas.
With the Galaxy Watch 5, Samsung made the best Android watch even better but still managed to disappoint everyone by overpromising and underdelivering on its most important promise.
Samsung brings tougher sapphire glass and a bigger battery to the Galaxy Watch 5, but this update is so minor you almost need a microscope to see it. While this is still the best Android smartwatch to buy today, it might not be for long as competition from Google, Fossil, and others creeps closer.
- Case Material: Aluminum
- Display: 1.19" Sapphire Crystal Glass AMOLED 396x396px (40mm) or 1.36" Sapphire Crystal Glass AMOLED 450x450px (44mm)
- CPU: Exynos W920
- RAM: 1.5GB
- Storage: 16GB
- Battery: 284mAh (40mm) or 410 mAh (44mm)
- Connectivity: NFC, GPS, Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi (2.4Gz & 5Ghz), LTE (optional)
- Durability: IP68, Waterproof to 50m (5ATM), MIL-STD-810H
- Software: One UI Watch (Wear OS 3 powered by Samsung)
- Health sensors: Optical Heart Rate, Electrical Heart Sensor (ECG), Bioelectrical Impedance (BIA), Continuous SpO, Skin Temperature Sensor
- Price: From $280
- Strap: 20mm
- Dimensions: 40.4 x 39.3 x 9.8 mm (40mm) or 44.4 x 43.3 x 9.8 mm (44mm)
- Weight: 29 (40mm) or 32.8g (44mm)
- Mobile payments: Samsung Pay, Google Wallet
- Workout detection: Yes
- Exercise modes: 90+
- Color options: Silver, Graphite, Pink Gold (40mm only), Sapphire (44mm only)
- Curved health sensor allows for better fit, especially on smaller wrists
- Sapphire Crystal Glass is sturdier
- Solid performance with Google Assistant now available out of the box
- Basically a carbon copy of the Watch 4
- Battery claims fall short
- ECG & Blood pressure still require Samsung phones
Note: For the duration of this review, the Galaxy Watch 5 (40mm, Bluetooth) was paired to a Google Pixel 6a, with Always On Display (AOD) disabled all but one day. I dislike Samsung’s AOD implementation, and it saves a little battery, which the Watch 5 sorely needed to even attempt to reach its lofty 50-hour claims.
Galaxy Watch 5: Design and fit
When I say the Galaxy Watch 5 is a carbon copy of the Galaxy Watch 4, I mean that quite literally. For all but the new Sapphire 44mm colorway, the only physical difference between 4 and 5 you can see with the naked eye is the curve on the bottom of the watch where the BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) sensor sits. The Watch 4’s sensor was essentially flat, which meant that anytime someone with a particularly narrow or wide, flat wrist flexed it, you might lose complete contact with the sensor, leading to inaccurate or incomplete tracking.
With the Galaxy Watch 5, that curve provides for more contact, resulting in more reliable data, whether your wrist is thin or thick, lean or muscled. This is great news for me and my bony rail of a wrist, for reasons we’ll address in a bit.
While on the topic of my bony wrist, if your wrist is small, you’ll likely need to grab a quality third-party strap before your watch shows up. The in-box bond, even on its smallest setting, is a bit loose on my 13.5cm or 5.4 inch wrist, leading the watch to wiggle about when I move my wrist at times. If your wrist circumference is near mine, consider standard 20mm straps rather than ones with the curved edges to match the Watch 5’s body; those don’t rotate as well and can lead to awkward gaps.
The only two other physical changes are invisible to eye: the battery inside the Watch 5 is 15% larger for each model, and the touchscreen is now Sapphire Crystal Glass rather than Corning Gorilla Glass. Bezels are the same size, the sculpting of the edges of the glass match, and the AMOLED panel beneath reaches the same level of brightness, so everything is just as good as the Watch 4, except hopefully the glass here shouldn’t scratch as easily.
Notice that I specifically said scratch; the harder something is to scratch, the more brittle it can be against shatters when they take a hit. This means if you’re someone extra-clumsy or you do a lot of strenuous work with your watch on your wrist, you will still want to invest in a tempered glass screen protector to absorb that kind of impact and crack rather than the sapphire underneath cracking.
Galaxy Watch 5: Touchscreen display
Again, while the glass covering it is new, the AMOLED display and touchscreen digitizer underneath are the same: 396 x 396 pixels for the 40mm and 450 x 450 pixels for the 44mm model. Maximum and minimum brightnesses are the same, letting you read the watch pretty easily in full sunlight or peek at the time when your insomnia strikes without blinding yourself.
Touch accuracy is just as good as last year, and the new watch faces look excellent on the Watch 5 — as do our favorite watch faces from the Watch 4. Auto-brightness is still a hair slow, but better than most Android smartatches.
While Galaxy Watch 5 Pro owners will be lamenting the loss of the physical rotating bezel, the Galaxy Watch 4 never had one. That said, while I found the digital bezel somewhat finicky on the Watch 4, it seems much smoother and more consistent on the Watch 5. Obviously, your mileage here will vary, but I’ve actually found myself using the digital bezel on the Watch 5 semi-regularly.
Always On Display is a function of software as much as hardware, but I’m not a fan of how bright it is. That may boil down to personal preference, but with AOD being the same brightness with hints of whatever your previous screen was bleeding through, it’s at times distracting. It’s also spoiling efficiency with too many active pixels burning more battery for a gaussian blue we don’t need.
Galaxy Watch 5: Health sensors and tracking
Coming back to the Galaxy Watch 5's curved sensor and its importance: I’m 5’2” and 112 lbs with a narrow wrist, and as such, I had mixed results for health tracking on the Galaxy Watch 4, but things are just a bit better on the Watch 5. BMI readings are more consistent and accurate for me than they were on the 4 — though recent fluid intake (or lack thereof) can still cause things to skew at times. Blood oxygen readings can be tricky to get good readings for, but the conditions for blood oxygen readings require your skin to be at a certain temperature and for you to stay exactly still in a set position, which is hard for me to do at times.
Step counts, heart rate tracking, and sleep analysis are the primary health metrics I track, and despite Samsung’s claims, nothing has changed on this front. Step tracking and heart rate work flawlessly, and auto-workout detection kicks on after 10 minutes of walking like clockwork. Sleep tracking in particular was supposed to be improved. However, with the infrared temperature sensor not activated yet, the only new sleep tracking benefit is being able to monitor snore detection with the watch’s microphone rather than your phone.
Likewise, the Samsung Health app sees no significant changes in its user interface or feature set with the Galaxy Watch 5. Everything is in the same place, relatively easy to find, and syncs quickly when the app is opened on the phone. The GPS Auto-mapping appears to be limited to the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, but even then, the feature is only available for hiking and biking, not running or normal walking, so don’t feel like you’re missing out here.
Samsung also needs to get over itself and let the ECG and blood pressure monitoring be accessible when paired to non-Galaxy phones. This is a potentially life-saving feature, and there is no hardware issue at play here since there are ways to mod the Samsung Health Companion app. It’ll run on other phones, so this is greed, plain and simple. Samsung cannot hold such important features hostage on a device you’re paying hundreds of dollars for.
I’ve had ten days with the Galaxy Watch 5 with five days of extended physical activity, including a five-hour, five-mile leisurely walk around a 93-degree Epcot and a two-hour, nine-hole round of golf. The round of golf was played on the GolfPad app on the Watch 5 for shot and club tracking and took the battery from 95% to 70% in three hours, with GPS on, AOD turned off, and tilt-to-wake enabled. Five hours of walking with it tracking the steps (but not GPS tracking the route), took the battery from 66% to 41%, AOD off and tilt-to-wake on.
Galaxy Watch 5: Battery life and charging
Each prolonged fitness activity took about a quarter of the battery, but that’s all but expected when you’re exerting yourself for hours on end. What’s less expected is losing that kind of battery on days when you aren’t physically active. Whether I was holed up at my desk, my couch, or actually got out and active, my battery consistently only lasts 1-1.5 days. That’s with Always On Display off, no music streaming on the watch, and Auto brightness turned on.
The health metric that may have the biggest battery impact, however, is heart rate tracking. The above 1-1.5 days was with HR set to continuous. If you stick to the default “Every 10 minutes while still” setting, you can easily get several more hours. That kind of defeats the purpose of buying and wearing a smartwatch, though.
Charging the Watch 5 with the new USB-C connected fast charger gives it a faster charge. However, that fast charging really doesn’t help much unless your watch is dead or close to it. Like Samsung’s phones, the Galaxy Watch 5 only sees the highest charging speeds when the battery is low, once you’re over 50%, speeds are identical to the Watch 4. That said, that extra speed is a lifesaver if you forgot to charge your watch and are about to go out for a run.
Galaxy Watch 5: Software and performance
Considering Samsung has had One UI Watch 4.5 in beta for the last two months, the software on the Watch 5 is no surprise to anyone. In fact, apart from the new watch faces, I can’t tell the difference. Performance seems a hair faster on the Watch 5, but there’s still that momentary lull when opening apps or swapping between them. Apps install faster, which is nice, but chances are you won’t be downloading new apps every week or so the way you would on a phone.
We didn’t have to wait for Google Assistant the way the Watch 4 did, but do yourself a favor and turn off the “Okay Google” detection. It’s not worth the battery drain, especially when you can set it as the press and hold shortcut on the home button. I had zero problems with any of the apps I tried on my Galaxy Watch 5. Assistant works well, adding cards to the watch from Google Wallet was effortless, and even GolfPad worked much better than it did eight months ago on the Watch 4 while using the watch’s GPS.
All in all, performance is as good as it gets for an Android smartwatch, but not earth-shattering. There is still one pitfall in Samsung’s software here, and it concerns the backup and restore process. The Galaxy Wearable app still can’t backup which apps you have downloaded, only the order of the pre-loaded apps in the app drawer. So, every time you take the watch to a different phone or factory reset it, you will have to go hunt down every app in the Google Play app yourself. At least you can send apps to the watch from Google Play on your phone these days. If Samsung and Google could collaborate on the entire overarching operating system, I am damn sure they can figure out a way to backup and store a list of app names to re-download.
Galaxy Watch 5: Should you buy it?
The Galaxy Watch 5 earns its crown as the new best Android smartwatch with that small battery boost and the improved Sapphire glass. Both features easily justify the $30 increase, especially when Apple’s Sapphire Crystal Glass watch models are more than double the price of the Watch 5. If you don’t have an Android watch right now but want the most seamless experience, the Galaxy Watch 5 is absolutely the watch to buy — provided you don’t want to hold out another two months and see what the severely overdue Google Pixel Watch is up to.
That said, the experience on the Pixel Watch is going to be vastly different than the Watch 5 because it will be Google’s first in-house Wear OS watch — and first in-house watch UI. Samsung, on the other hand, has been refining One UI Watch’s layout and look for half a decade and they have it down to a science. So, even with the Pixel Watch on the horizon, you might be better off with the Watch 5’s known quality, dependability, and experience.
Until someone else can prove themselves, Samsung doesn’t have pull out all the stops and dazzle us with its watches. It just has to be consistent and quality, which Samsung has delivered with the Galaxy Watch 5 even if the battery claims fell a bit short.
The only people who should not buy this watch are owners of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic. The Watch 5’s differences vs. the Galaxy Watch 4 are too small to be worth spending hundreds of dollars again.
Buy it if…
- You want the best Android smartwatch currently available
- You are already in Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem
- You need reliability
Don't buy it if…
- You dislike One UI in any and all forms
- You need ECG to work no matter what phone you use
- You absolutely need multi-day battery life
Q: How does the Galaxy Watch 5 compare to the Galaxy Watch 4?
I’m not going to mince words: the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 5 are 85% identical. The three differences are that the health sensor is better curved on the Watch 5 for better reads, the Watch 5 has a slightly larger battery and a charger that uses USB-C (at long last), and the Sapphire Crystal Glass should stand up to scratches and bumps better. These improvements justify the Watch 5’s price increase, but they’re not good enough reasons to upgrade.
Stick with what you got and let it ride.